What is Skin Disease?
The skin in the largest organ in your cat’s body and nearly 25 percent of cats will suffer from some form of skin disease over the course of their life. Skin disease in cats is a broad term used to refer to a variety of abnormal conditions that may affect the epidermis, or skin. These conditions range from allergies to cysts to abscesses and can have a large impact on not only your cat’s appearance, but also to its general health and well-being. Skin disease in your cat will almost certainly cause discomfort for your pet, ranging from irritation to severe pain. Here we provide an overview of some of the most common skin diseases.
Symptoms of Skin Disease in Cats
Since skin diseases can include a broad range of conditions, symptoms may vary widely. However, there are many common symptoms. If you suspect your cat may be suffering from skin disease, watch for signs such as:
- Redness of the skin
- Ulcers or open wounds
- Loss of fur
- Scabby, scaly, flaky or damaged patches of skin
- Excessive scratching or licking
- Swelling or bumps on the skin
- Dermatitis or skin inflammation
Causes of Skin Disease in Cats
While there are numerous kinds of skin diseases, some occur more frequently in cats than others. Some of the most common skin diseases in cats include:
- Allergies to food
- Allergies to environmental conditions
- Bacterial infection of hair follicles
- Allergies to flea bites/flea infestations
- Autoimmune disease
Various factors may influence whether a cat is more predisposed to developing skin disease. Age may play a role in conditions such as acne or cysts, while bacterial infections may occur from wounds or exposure to toxic compounds. Allergies can be hereditary and certain breeds of cats will also be prone to different types of skin disease.
Diagnosis of Skin Disease in Cats
Diagnosis of your cat’s skin disease will begin with a thorough physical exam conducted in your veterinarian’s office. In order to help your vet identify the precise type of skin disease, you should come prepared with a complete medical and physical history of your cat. If your cat has relatives with any known skin diseases, or if any other pets in your household are suffering from skin disease, this will also be important information. You will also want to make a note of the approximate onset of the skin disease in your cat as well as any progression or worsening of the symptoms. Finally, you may want to bring a list of ingredients from your cat’s food. If allergies are suspected, this could assist your vet in developing an appropriate alternative diet.
During the exam, your vet may want to take skin scrapings or a biopsy of the affected area. These types of procedures will generally be very quick and relatively painless for your cat. The samples will then be examined under a microscope or sent off to an outside laboratory for independent analysis. If allergies are suspected, your vet will also examine the ears and paws of your cat to determine whether large amounts of yeast or other bacteria are growing. If an underlying internal condition is suspected, your vet may also order a full blood panel.
Some forms of diagnosis may involve monitoring your cat’s symptoms in connection with dietary or environmental changes. In these cases, your vet may alter your cat’s diet or certain elements of their living conditions in order to determine if there are any changes in symptoms. Given the wide variety of types and causes of skin disease, diagnosis may not be immediately available during your first visit to the veterinarian.
Treatment of Skin Disease in Cats
Treatment of skin disease in your cat will vary depending on the exact nature and type. In many cases, antibiotic rinses and baths may be prescribed by your vet or even administered initially in your veterinarian’s office. With many of these treatments, it will be important to prevent your cat from grooming until it has air dried, allowing the medications and treatments enough time to be effective. For systematic conditions, oral antibiotics may also be appropriate.
Your veterinarian may also suggest a prescription diet for your cat. Many times your vet will have specialized types of food available at their office or will supply you with a website or local store where you can locate specialized foods. Foods that do not contain grain, corn, or certain types of protein that are common allergens--such as chicken--are all options if your cat’s skin disease is caused by allergies.
If your cat’s skin disease is caused by fleas or other biting insects, your vet may also prescribe a flea and tick treatment. These treatments will be applied at home over a regularly scheduled period of time and should be maintained for the life of your cat.
Recovery of Skin Disease in Cats
Your cat’s recovery from skin disease will depend on the type of disease and underlying cause. In most cases, skin disease can be managed with appropriate veterinary treatment and regular follow-up care. Some skin diseases cannot be cured, but can be effectively managed throughout the life of your cat. It will be important to follow your vet’s instructions to prevent flare-ups or reoccurrence.